Who is Winning Between Upshot and FiveThirtyEight (Answer: We Are)

In the battle between FiveThirtyEight.com and NYT’s Upshot, we are the winners.



NYTimes.com Upstart

There is a great battle taking place. I’m not talking about the race for President. I’m talking about the battle over which website is best at using election-oriented explanatory graphics (or “data journalism”)–NYTimes.com’s Upshot or ESPN.com’s FiveThirtyEight.com?*

Currently, users of both sites are winning because both sites are using Edward Tufte-inspired methods of displaying real-time trends and variations. (Tufte is a Yale professor emeritus who thinks PowerPoint is evil and passionately dislikes the cartoon illustrations with numbers that are popularly called infographics.)

2016_Election_Forecast___FiveThirtyEight 3Here’s an example of a Tufteian influenced display of data found on 538. When one typically sees a Red and Blue map of the U.S. that shows which candidate is leading in each state, the map adheres to a geographic display.

2016_Election_Forecast___FiveThirtyEight 2However, because each state, thanks to the Electoral College, has a say in the election based primarily on its population, that key data point is ignored when the map is displayed geographically. A more insightful way to display a Red and Blue map is this way, as demonstrated on FiveThirtyEight.com.

Another impressive use of data journalism is the way in which Upshot displays the ever-changing “paths to victory” that each candidate has to victory. (below)

nytimes-pathsThis is perhaps the most revealing display of the daunting challenge Trump faces that I’ve seen. Using the current assumptions from Upshot’s forecasting model applied to current data, Clinton has 998 paths (or 97% of the ways) while Trump has only 24 paths (or 2.3%).

*There’s a lot of history between Nate Silver (founder of fivethirtyeight.com) and the New York Times. I’ve never had much interest in such back-stories. However, competition is a good thing.

Designing the impossible – a simple chart that interprets a mountain of data

Artists Shan Carter and Amanda Cox created the interactive chart in the video I’ve embedded below. (Added later: There is now a permanent spot for the graphic on NYTimes.com: here.) It is appearing this afternoon on the front page of NYTimes.com and interprets exit polling data from the entire Democratic Party presidential primary campaign. My video is a quick screencast (a video screengrab) of me clicking through the tabs of data that are displayed in the graphic. (What I didn’t show was how a cursor-hover reveals data related to each state box.)

I believe it’s an impressive (dazzling) use of subtle interactive-animation and information design that effectively translates a mountain of incomprehensible data into an understandable statistical narrative. I’m especially struck by the way the NYTimes artists eschewed colors and relied on the animation and the relative placement of data to interpret the statistics. For a chart junkie (I confess), I’m impressed that it is strongly visual, yet at the same time, is very “un” info-graphic. This is serious information design porn, in other words. (For future readers, today is the last day of the marathon 2008 Democratic Party presidential primary campaign.)

Credits that appeared with the graphic: Source: Edison/Mitofsky exit poll Design: Shan Carter and Amanda Cox